Communism (society)

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This page is about the communist mode of production. For other senses of the term, see Communism (disambiguation).
An engraving of Robert Owen's proposed proto-communist society of New Harmony. This early communist experiment failed and the planned living complex was never built.

Communism, also referred to as socialism, is the society that Marxism predicts will succeed capitalism.

Communism is based on common ownership of the means of production, cooperative labour, and freely associated producers (or, the free association of equal producers) that administer production on the basis of a social or common plan. The social character of labour, unlike in capitalism (see Law of value), is directly expressed (directly or immediately social labour) via the association of producers. Consequently, communism is a society without commodity production, commodity exchange (and markets) and therefore without a universal equivalent (i.e. money). Value, the value-form, and the law of value have therefore also disappeared. [1]

The superstructure arising from this base or economic structure would be based on collective administration of free and social individuals. communism is therefore a stateless society.


Socialism is an essentially contested concept and can be defined in a number of ways. Adopting an idealist approach in defining socialism allows for putting abstract ideas first. Those that like workers' self-management we can define socialism as synonymous with a system based on workers' self-management. Those that like welfare states can define socialism as such. Using this idealist approach anything can be embraced and denounced as socialism if there is some historical continuity between the classical socialism of the nineteenth century and some political position today. Marxism takes a different approach determining what socialism is, not as abstract ideological concept, but based on the objective forces of the development of history. Socialism, using this materialist approach, is not defined by what socialists would ideally like it to be, but by what it will be according to material conditions. This specifically materialist approach to socialism is called communism.

Marxism begins by analysing the social development as it plays out through history, which is the result of the objective factor of the development of material productive forces which births class antagonisms and class conflict. Capitalism did not come about by arguments and the rationality of great philosophers or thinkers like Adam Smith. Similarly, the basis for socialism is not arguments, philosophy, rationality, morality or persuasion but capitalism.

We can discern various tendencies within capitalism that reveal what post-capitalism will look like. First, we can observe the development of the socialisation of the production and labour process, itself a product of the concentration of capital which also furthers planning (though still constrained by the 'anarchy of the market'). Labour in capitalism is still executed privately. Consequently, the social character of labour is realised via the exchange of commodities. We can also observe that social classes have materially opposing interests producing antagonisms, tensions, and conflict. Social ownership would come about through socialised production being confronted with class struggle. As Engels commented: it is "slipping from the hands of the bourgeoisie, into public property. By this act, the proletariat frees the means of production from the character of capital they have thus far borne, and gives their socialized character complete freedom to work itself out. Socialized production upon a predetermined plan becomes henceforth possible." Workers, or the immediate producers, assume control over production and integrate all productive establishment in an association. Wage-labour is replaced by freely associated labour. Commodity production is "entirely inconsistent with" associated labour.[2] (see: Law of value).

Communism is therefore defined as a mode of production or society originating from the contradictions and conflicts within capitalism. Communist society is defined as based on common ownership (or social ownership), freely associated labour, and production for use or utility.

The material basis for a stateless, classless, moneyless society[edit]

Economics and its superstructure is predicated upon a scarcity of commodities, therein the question being of how to manage them and the resultant economy. Without scarcity there will be no need to maintain a society lacking the institutions of economics, as it is the default state given no scarcity. Rather, class, money, and the state become untenable in such a condition as there is no need for them. Private property causes socioeconomic hierarchy, and without it the hierarchies would collapse as they have nothing to rest upon and are thus deemed invalid.

Communism, as fully-realized socialism, is the most stable socio-economic system[edit]

As there is no need to constantly suppress people, given that there are no antagonisms stemming from scarcity and its resultant power dynamics, communism establishes a stability that was unnatural to the previous modes of production. There is no need to worry about the systems of capital and their many uncontrollable aspects, particularly relating to markets and more particularly to the relations of markets on an international, world stage. There is no material basis for hierarchy and people would understand that – those attempting to seize power would have barely anything to provide for people in exchange for their consent to be governed, as there is no scarcity, and such attempts would thus fail to get off the ground. Besides, in communism there is a lack of incentive to attempt a seizure of power, as materially one already would have everything one wants. In this stage of communism too would there be more of a presence of intrinsic motivation, which is more genuine and reliable than extrinsic motivation – that is, people as a whole would actually want to uphold and defend communism themselves, as opposed to the rather begrudging effort they give to being forced to abide by private property relations.

Communism as a movement[edit]

Marx described communism as "not [being] a state of affairs which is to be established, an ideal to which reality [will] have to adjust itself. We call communism the real movement which abolishes the present state of things. The conditions of this movement result from the premises now in existence." [3]

Communism in this sense is also accommodated by the theoretical framework of Marxism, which is referred to as scientific socialism. This term was, according to Karl Marx, "only used in opposition to utopian socialism, which wants to attach the people to new delusions, instead of limiting its science to the knowledge of the social movement made by the people itself"[4]

Bordiga argues that "communism presents itself as the transcendence of the systems of utopian socialism which seek to eliminate the faults of social organisation by instituting complete plans for a new organisation of society whose possibility of realisation was not put in relationship to the real development of history."[5]

The development of a communist society[edit]

Both Marx and Engels believed that communist society would develop over time. In 1890, Engels wrote that socialist society would emerge as something "undergoing continuous change and progress" in which the distribution of goods would evolve with the progress of production and social organization.[6] Beginning with Marx's Critique of the Gotha Programme, the predicted development of communist society would be divided into two parts: the lower phase and the higher phase. Lenin later modified this schema by calling the lower phase socialism and the higher phase communism.[7] Debate exists about how fast communism will develop to an advanced stage, or if, under the present material conditions, has the potential to produce most consumer goods in abundance from the start, thus 'skipping' the first phase of communism.

The first phase of communism[edit]

The first phase of communism (sometimes the lower or less advanced phase) is what is established immediately following the revolution as hypothesized by Marx. In this stage, the productive forces of society have not developed to extend that free access to consumer goods is viable. In this phase, the division of labour continues to exist and most consumer goods are rationed on the basis of labour certificates or labour credits.[8] It is furthermore based on associated labour and common ownership.

As the productive forces continue to develop, it is theorised, more consumer goods will be produced in abundance enabling their free access. Gradually, communism would develop into a more advanced or higher phase.

The higher phase of communism[edit]

The higher, or more advanced phase of communism, is where most consumer goods are freely accessible. Automation of production will be widespread making it possible to transcend the division of labour.[6]

External links[edit]


  1. Marx. Critique of the Gotha Programme, Part I.
    "Within the co-operative society based on common ownership of the means of production, the producers do not exchange their products; just as little does the labor employed on the products appear here as the value of these products, as a material quality possessed by them, since now, in contrast to capitalist society, individual labor no longer exists in an indirect fashion but directly as a component part of total labor. The phrase "proceeds of labor", objectionable also today on account of its ambiguity, thus loses all meaning."
  2. Marx, K. Capital, volume I
  3. Marx, K. (1845). Part I: Feuerbach. Opposition of the Materialist and Idealist Outlook. A. Idealism and Materialism. [5. Development of the Productive Forces as a Material Premise of Communism]. Accessed December 11.
  4. Marx, K. (1874). Conspectus of Bakunin’s Statism and Anarchy. Accessed december 11.
  5. Bordiga, A. (1920. Theses of the Abstentionist Communist Faction of the Italian Socialist Party.
  6. Engels, Friedrich. Letter to C. Schmidt, 1890.
  7. Lenin. State and Revolution, Chapter V.
  8. Marx. Critique of the Gotha Programme. Chapter I